Psychology of Downgrading Crime

bicycle cop

If the Top Cop demands crime reduction without clear direction for strict adherence to UCR, the
psychology of downgrading crime will surely follow.

~ Barry M. Baker

The psychology of downgrading crime is all about police officers looking good by achieving crime reduction by extraordinary means. UCR Part One crimes is the measure for success in crime reduction. The UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting) system implemented by the FBI in 1930 is superbly designed to uniformly classify crime across the nation.

Nearly all police departments in the United States participate in UCR. As a police officer, all you have to do is properly classify a crime when you take the initial report. Even if you err in the classification, your department should have a review process in place to identify and correct the error.

The pursuit of crime reduction is the noble goal of every police department. How to keep that goal noble depends upon how to prevent a psychology of downgrading crime from developing. The effort must be exerted from the top down. If the Top Cop demands crime reduction without clear direction for strict adherence to UCR, the psychology of downgrading crime will surely follow.

The Way it should Work

In 1966, Donald D. Pomerleau was appointed Police Commissioner for the Baltimore Police Department. The department was about to be transformed into a modern police department utilizing modern equipment and methods. One of the methods would be a sophisticated crime reporting system. 

Pomerleau made it very clear that Baltimore was about to experience a dramatic increase in crime. The increase would not come from a physical increase in crime. It would come simply because crime would, for the first time, be reported accurately.

The FBI’s UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting) was the department’s Bible for crime reporting. Every incident report went through a Staff Review Process. The Staff Review Section was comprised of sworn and civilian personnel. Their only purpose for being was to make certain that the department’s reporting system maintained strict adherence to the UCR. The Staff Review process was a powerful deterrent to the psychology of downgrading crime.

Staff Review – Antithesis to the Psychology of Downgrading Crime

The men and women of Staff Review were really good at their jobs, and the smartest or cleverest couldn’t get anything by them. They made it easy for police officers as well. If an officer in the field came upon something that seemed a little complicated, Staff Review was a 24/7 operation and only a phone call away.

Pomerleau had a really bad attitude toward those who didn’t take integrity seriously. He had a zero tolerance level when it came to police officers who submitted false reports in any form. 

The definition of the psychology of downgrading crime is knowingly and purposely downgrading a crime. Any officer overtly lying or lying by omission in a report for the purpose of downgrading would be administratively charged. The punishment for an officer found guilty in an administrative hearing for submitting a false report was universal… the officer was FIRED!

This is not a Hypothetical Scenario

Imagine yourself as a new police officer sitting at roll call during your first week out of the academy. Your shift commander is conducting the roll call, and he’s addressing the reporting of aggravated assaults. [A Part One offense under UCR]. The lieutenant identifies a specific incident where the suspect stabbed the victim. The shift commander instructs his shift to classify a stabbing, when the injury is not life threatening, as a common assault. [A Part Two offense under UCR, and one that no one really cares about].

Even though you’re brand new, you’ve been reading UCR, and you immediately recognize that the lieutenant is wrong. What do you do? Do you follow your lieutenant’s instruction, or do you properly classify a stabbing as an aggravated assault? 

After all, your department purports to adhere to UCR. If you join a police department that has a high quality reporting system, you won’t receive such flawed instruction. If you did get such direction, and you followed it, your report would eventually be returned to you for correction.

But, let’s look at the other officers on your shift. How many of the officers do you think would follow this shift commander’s direction to improperly downgrade the aggravated assault to common assault? What about the sergeants? The sergeants will be reviewing such reports. Are the sergeants in agreement with the lieutenant?

This is the Psychology of Downgrading Crime

Here’s an even more important question. Why is the lieutenant applying his own criteria, which is so clearly wrong? Is the lieutenant stupid? Does this lieutenant give questionable direction on other matters? The most probable explanation is that the lieutenant knows exactly what he’s doing. 

The really scary thing about this scenario is that the lieutenant wouldn’t be telling you to downgrade stabbing incidents; unless, he feels confident that there’ll be no objections from commanders farther up the chain of command. This is the psychology of downgrading crime.

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